Olga Puchkova won an absolute nail-biter against No.1 seed Venus Williams in the semifinals of the WTA Brasil Tennis Cup on Friday night. Awaiting her in Saturday's final will be Monica Niculescu.
WTA Staff

FLORIANOPOLIS, Brazil - It will be third time lucky for somebody at the WTA Brasil Tennis Cup on Saturday, as Monica Niculescu and Olga Puchkova battled into the final of the International event.

Niculescu was the first of the two to move into the final, beating No.7 seed Kristina Mladenovic in just 63 minutes, 60 62. Niculescu broke Mladenovic in all seven of the Frenchwoman's service games.

"My opponent played really well - she was like a wall out there today," Mladenovic said. "The match was even trickier today because of the heat - I couldn't find my way out there, or at least make it tough for her. But overall the week was really great for me - I didn't expect much coming here but I really enjoyed it. Everyone was so nice here. I'm really looking forward to coming back next year."

"It wasn't easy today - she was hitting really hard and aggressive, and it was really hot outside, so I'm happy I could stay with her," Niculescu said. "The whole week hasn't been easy. I wasn't seeded, so I could have played anybody right away, and it was a tough draw for me to play Medina. And now I'm really happy I could pass the semifinal and be in the final. I'm happy with my game right now."

Puchkova followed Niculescu into the final but had a far, far tougher go of it, battling from a set down and 2-0 down in the third set, and for more than two and a half hours, to defeat No.1 seed Venus Williams, 46 64 75. The Russian had taken out No.3 seed Kirsten Flipkens earlier in the week, too.

"For me this is very exciting," Puchkova said. "I had a big win against Flipkens this week and now another one against Venus. But I just go into every match trying to focus on myself and how I play, and not really thinking about the other player or what their ranking is. It's working well this week."

Puchkova's win over the World No.20 was her third Top 20 win, and actually her first in more than six years - her first two came all the way back in the fall of 2006, against then-No.15 Ana Ivanovic (in the first round of Bali) and against then-No.12 Jelena Jankovic (in the quarterfinals of Québec City).

Both Niculescu and Puchkova are 0-2 in their careers in WTA finals: Niculescu was a runner-up at Luxembourg in 2011 (to Victoria Azarenka) and again at Luxembourg in 2012 (to Williams); Puchkova was a runner-up twice in 2006, at Kolkata (to Martina Hingis) and at Québec City (to Marion Bartoli).

Niculescu and Puchkova will be playing each other for the first time at the WTA level.

"I played Monica once in juniors and lost," Puchkova said. "She has a difficult game compared to all the other players. I have to be very focused and try to stay steady and try not to go for too much."